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I have nothing against crappie, really. They do have the second-worst food name ever, ranking just below turducken and ahead of shiitake mushrooms, but there’s little else about them to not like. For a pan fish, they grow pretty big, fight pretty hard and live pretty much everywhere I fish.
That’s why you may be surprised when I tell you that most of the family members and friends I fish with won’t keep a crappie. Why not? Because in terms of taste, speckled perch, as we call them, just don’t match up to bream, shellcracker and channel catfish – their more popular neighbors. For discriminating fish eaters, it’s like real Coke vs. that cola drink from Walmart.
My brothers and I were talking recently about people who travel hundreds of miles and pay lots of money to catch crappie. Bill Dance has devoted at least one full episode to fishing for them. And in every description I’ve ever read, their table quality is listed as good or excellent.
Even so, my grandfather treated them like they might contaminate the rest of his catch if they got too close. And I can remember our father telling me, “Don’t put that speckled perch in the basket.” In fact, the only acceptable reasons for keeping them were that you caught absolutely nothing else or you were feeding your in-laws that night.
It wasn’t just crappie that got thrown back either. Largemouth bass and warmouth were treated the same way for the same reason. “Yeah, that’s a nice one. Probably four or five pounds.” Splash.
Keep in mind that these were men who lived through the Depression in the rural South and who would eat most anything that could be loosely defined as food. But they also were men who spent two or three days a week – every week – fishing in the rivers, lakes and sloughs around Calhoun County.
When you do that for several decades, fishing turns into a never-miss proposition. And if you always catch plenty of fish, you can afford to be picky about which ones you eat.
Our one brother who still lives in Blountstown has taken this to what I consider its logical extreme. No matter how many fish he catches over the course of a day, he releases all but 18 (yes, exactly 18) hand-sized bream.
According to him, that’s the perfect amount for him and my sister-in-law to have for dinner that night and for leftovers the next day. Because they are all the same size, they cook more consistently. He also contends that larger fish don’t taste as good and the smaller ones aren’t worth the trouble it takes to clean them.
While I agree that bream and shellcracker taste better than crappie, it’s rare that I have enough of any variety to be picky. So I’ll keep all the speckled perch, bass and warmouth that I catch. I’ll just feed them to you while I eat the bream.